Visa fees scare away conference organisers

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They are warning that international conference organisers are skipping the country because of exorbitant fees levied by the Immigration Department for people requiring visas to enter the country.

Dar es Salaam. Conferencing and hotel industry players are raising concern over deteriorating business due to a recent decision by the government to raise business visa fees for foreigners by up to 500 per cent.

They are warning that international conference organisers are skipping the country because of exorbitant fees levied by the Immigration Department for people requiring visas to enter the country.

Hotel owners have complained that the dwindling number of meetings that normally bring in hundreds of delegates, have seen room bookings plummet.

The new fees were introduced in January and effected payments of Business Visa at $250 per head and Business Pass of $200 per head for those requiring the documents.

The new fees came into effect after the department abolished the Carrying on Temporary Assignment Pass (CTA) that they said had been abused and lacked a proper implementation mechanism. Visa fees previously ranged from $50 to $100 per head. American passport holders were the highest paying visitors.

According to the new structure, anybody coming into the country for business related trips would now be required to pay $200 for all national passport holders from countries without a visa arrangement with Tanzania and $250 for American passport holders.

Stakeholders who talked to The Citizen voiced their concern that the new fees and their implementation had impacted negatively on conferencing, which was one of the many ways of promoting tourism.

They point out that they are losing business to neighbouring countries which charge less for the same calibre of visitors. Rwanda charges $30, Kenya $67, while Uganda and Burundi charge $87 for delegates coming to conferences.

The government has been blamed for not involving the private sector in the plan for the new fees, which has now caught many of them unawares.

Hotel Association of Tanzania (Hat) CEO Lathifa Sykes confirmed enforcement of the new visa fees. She said she had come to learn of the problem when some meeting organisers from abroad and delegates were blocked at Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) upon arrival unless they paid the fees.

She said some of the delegates were now diverting conferences that were earlier confirmed to take place in the country. The organisers, Ms Sykes noted, feel Kigali, Nairobi and Kampala had favourable fee charges.

“There has already been a cancellation of a June meeting earlier scheduled for Tanzania, and which would have drawn 200-250 delegates. The meeting has been shifted to Uganda.

“Uganda and Rwanda are being considered countries with best conferencing tourism attractions. The visa decision will therefore see more organises opt out of Dar es Salaam and Arusha,” she told The Citizen in a telephone interview.

Yesterday, however, the Immigration Department spokesperson, Mr Abbas Irovya, explained that the new fees only targeted those holding meetings that are business oriented. He said the old fees of $50 and $100 for tourists on other passports and US passports respectively still stood.

“We have introduced the $200 as Business Pass for people from nations that do not need a visa to come here but are coming in for meetings that are deemed as business related. Those in this category from the US and other nations that require visas will pay $250 for Business Visa,” said Mr Irovya.

He said he was surprised to hear the complaints because the charges were not unique to Tanzania alone. “Many countries around the world charge these kind of fees and we have done it under the law,” he said. According to him, people coming in for research related meetings were not being charged.

A survey by The Citizen in Dar es Salaam revealed that hotels in the city are reeling from the effects of slumping number of conference meetings. This has also been compounded by the ban on hotel meetings for government departments.

A source at Southern Sun hotel said the falling numbers of visitors was a great concern to them.

“When these people stop coming for meetings it means we run without guests for a good number of days, and it is not only us suffering but almost all hotels in the city are impacted,” the source said.

The Conferences and Marketing director at the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC), Ms Mkunde Senyagwa, while not abreast of the development, warned any fees that priced the country out of competition should be looked at soberly.

Ms Senyagwa said she was worried whether AICC would meet its annual projection of 90 meetings to be co-hosted with the Julius Nyerere International Convention Centre (JNICC) in Dar es Salaam this year.

By April, this year, AICC had hosted 14 conferences in the two facilities which is only 16 per cent of the target. “It is a concern now if we would be able to host 76 conferences in the remaining eight months,” she said.

She said last year they successfully hosted 53 conferences, one conference more compared to the year 2014 when they held 52 meetings.

“Having 90 confirmed conferences wasn’t a guarantee that organisers are bound at giving us the jobs, anything happening now that will make them feel our destination is not attractive means losing the chance,” she told The Citizen.

According to her, calling off the conferences in favour of other countries means those in the value chain also loses out.

She said a survey on conferencing tourism had shown how its multiplier effect benefited the economy.

As a member of the International Congress and Convention Association for more than 30 years, AICC has been spending millions of shillings to lobby for conferences to be brought here.

She said last year alone, AICC spent about Euro 23, 000 as registration fees in the International Medical Educators Exchange (Imex) exhibitions organized in Frankfurt, German,y in efforts to meeting global organizers of meetings, conferences and events.

She asked the government to speed up the process to form the National Convention Bureau (NCB) which would be responsible to gather all tourism stakeholders, find resources and carry attraction roles.